Examining Success

I am fairly confident that when humans started using language the words they created were fairly simple. You. Me. Eat. Rock. Run. I’m not a linguist by training, but I suspect that the words that emerged were from the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You know, the words focused on staying alive.

It wasn’t until the mid-1500’s that the English word “success” was coined from the Latin succedere (come close after), but wow did that word gain popularity quickly. Now, you can find it everywhere. Podcasts, self-help books, quotes. We want to find success. We want to define success. We want to argue about success. We seek success out like thirsty people divining for water. 

Me, too.

Driving home recently, though, I heard a great quote about success from Maya Angelou that refined my thinking.

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.

I’ve always thought of success in big terms, big achievements. But the funny thing is that after hearing Angelou’s quote I realized that I feel success daily. Every day my heart is a barometer on my success. I run through the moments, meetings and milestones and weigh them out. Did I focus on the right stuff? Did I do it the right way? In short, did I like the Mel that showed up today? Did she make me proud?

I never thought that success could be viewed in small terms. I never considered that every single day can be not just a good day, but a successful day. I didn’t consider that the daily feeling in my heart — the buoyant feeling of being at my best or the anchor feeling of letting myself down — was measuring success. And that’s crazy, because I feel it so strongly. That feeling when I like me and what I’ve done and how I’ve done it and I am on top of the world.

And in that moment, success feels like as good a word as any.